Being totally absorbed by a task

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible activities
  • Knowing is … flow (having sufficient skills to complete a demanding task effortlessly)
  • Learner is … an engager (individual in action)
  • Learning is … developing skills
  • Teaching is … N/A




Flow is characterized by intense concentration on an achievable goal or task with deep, yet effortless immersion. Flow requires tasks that promise success and offer immediate feedback. To enter a flow state, one must have autonomy over the situation or activity. A Flow state is an energizing and pleasurable experience during which one might lose awareness one’s sense of self and other things – including time sometimes.


Flow describes a state of absorption in a task, but it does not offer suggestions for how to enter it. The theory makes broad and largely unsubstantiated claims of how experiencing Flow leads to happiness and otherwise improves one’s life. Flow also does not take into account any social aspects of learning. Commentators familiar with Eastern philosophy have highlighted that the concept – introduced to Western thought in the 1970s – has been a core component of most wisdom traditions for millennia.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Mihaly Csikszentmihályi

Status as a Theory of Learning

Flow is not a theory of learning, as it does not offer new insight into the complex dynamics of learning. Flow is more of a psychological theory of mental states.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Flow is not a theory of teaching, yet, it has been integrated into education as a desirable state for learners’ engagements. The theory does not provide insights into how to set conditions for absorption into tasks. Some evidence has been generated to show that some teaching approaches (e.g., the Montessori Method) are more likely than others to prompt the experience of flow among learners.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Flow is supported by some empirical evidence. Most of that evidence comes out of Phenomenology, Cognitive Science, and Neuroscience – which is to say, while generally accepted and supported by substantial evidence, the focused scientific program of research directly associated with Flow is limited.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Flow” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List